I recently gave a talk at the Norfolk Naval Base, the world largest, to officers, sailors and members of the technical staff of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.
David Furey of Williamsburg, Team Leader at the Center was assigned to organize the event and he asked me to talk about my survival during the Second World War. "A first-hand account would provide our people with a new perspective on the history of World War II," he said.
The interest was apparently high. More than 300 men and women filled the auditorium, ready to ask penetrating questions. Furey, in turn, provided me with a glimpse into America's naval power. During a drive-around guided tour of the Naval Base, he explained the role military preparedness plays in maintaining peace.
The need for such preparedness was underlined by a recent TV interview with Professor Steve Cohen, one of America's foremost experts of US.-Russia relations. He said, "Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation made it clear that Russia will never start a war, that Russia's military is purely defensive. But if missiles or boots land on Russian soil, Russia will "respond nuclear." He stated, if there is any war-making on Russian territory, the countries which have allowed NATO missile installations on their territories will be in the "crosshairs," thus alerting these countries they will be the first to be destroyed. Further, Putin warned NATO that Russia's targets will include North America."
Presumably also, the Norfolk Naval Base.
All this is ominous considering that currently some 31,000 NATO troops are stationed in the Baltic countries and are engaged in what the Russians call "war maneuvers."
The worsening relationship between the U.S. and Russia has induced Edward Lozansky, the founder and president of the American University in Moscow, to publish an op-ed article in the Washington Times. He calls for the renewal of Gorbachev-era Glasnost and Prestroika, (openness and reform.)
He pointed out that there is an urgent need to focus attention on foreign policy in both countries because an impending failure could lead to World War III. And such a war, Lozansky warns, could turn nuclear.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, in a recent essay predicted that the arrival of a new president in the White House will not improve relations. Regardless who succeeds Barack Obama, the fundamentally differing views of their respective roles in global affairs means that reconciliation between Moscow and Washington is unlikely in the medium term.
He wrote, "The confrontation is ... not born of the parties' misunderstanding or specific errors, but of a clash of exceptionalism between the U.S., which does not see anyone in the world as its equal, and Russia, which insists on equality with the most powerful. It therefore comes to the world order, the role of the U.S. in it, and the status of Russia."
Trenin presumes that even the presence of obvious common interests, such as preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the fight against Islamist extremism will not fundamentally change the situation. The best what can be expected is to focus on the management of the confrontation in the short and medium terms. This will involve preventing incidents involving soldiers of the two countries and maintaining permanent and reliable contact with influential officials in both countries to avoid misrepresentation of certain actions by Moscow and Washington.
"It is high time for the major electronic media and mainstream print media to open their air waves and pages to full-blooded debate between authoritative representatives from all sides," writes Lozansky. "This is the only way we can prepare whoever wins the election in November to take us out of the present cul-de-sac."
Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and on Amazon.com